Experts See Technical Prerequisites for Banning Nuclear Weapons Testing, Say Political Will Needed

WASHINGTON, DC – Leading American experts in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation met Sept. 12 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC to discuss the importance of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), Kazakhstan’s role in the international non-proliferation movement, as well as next steps to reduce the global threat of nuclear weapons, including through the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). One of the key messages at the event was that there are technical prerequisites now making it possible for the CTBT ratification by the United States which could and would spur actions on behalf of other countries whose ratification is required for its entry into force.

The symposium was held under the title of “Looking Back at the Legacy of LTBT and the future of the CTBT” and was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the LTBT. The event was organized by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States, Green Cross International and the Arms Control Association. The event also included a presentation of The ATOM Project and an exhibition entitled “Looking for Peace” of the art of the project’s Honorary Ambassador and international anti-nuclear weapons activist Karipbek Kuyukov.

Green Cross International Programme Director Paul F. Walker, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Director Thomas J. Putnam, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow and former U.S. LTBT Negotiator Ambassador James Goodby, former Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum Director Dr. Timothy Naftali, National Academy of Sciences “Technical issues related to the CTBT” committee member Ambassador Linton Brooks, Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear and Strategic Policy Anita Friedt spoke at the event.

The speakers presented detailed histories of the conclusion of two treaties prohibiting nuclear tests and highlighted the problems preventing the entry into force of the CTBT. They also noted that now there were technical prerequisites for the CTBT’s ratification by the United States, including the technical ability to provide global monitoring for possible violations of the ban.

In his remarks at the event, Kazakhstan Ambassador to the United States Kairat Umarov commented about the significance and future of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as well as Kazakhstan’s initiatives in the sphere of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. Umarov stressed that Kazakhstan is pressing for more decisive actions by the international community to eliminate the nuclear threat.

The ambassador said a new phase in the global process of non-proliferation and disarmament was launched 22 years ago with the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, which was followed by other practical steps, such as the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Central Asia.

“In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was opened for signing at the UN, and Kazakhstan was among the first to sign. Since then, 183 countries have joined the treaty and 159 states have ratified it. However, as is well known, there are eight countries left that need to sign and ratify it to make the treaty enter into force and we call upon those states to take such a step,” Umarov said.

Green Cross Programme Director Walker reminded the audience what’s been done to date and highlighted the crucial importance of the LTBT. “So, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was an enormous accomplishment in 1963, and I know it took years under the Eisenhower administration and finally John F. Kennedy administration to put in place,” Walker said.

“I want to remind everybody that it was actually signed in Moscow on August 5th, 1963, so just 50 years ago, by Dean Rusk, Andrei Gromyko and Alec Douglas. And it was ratified, after some considerable debate in the U.S. Senate, on September 24th, 80 to 19 votes. So I think all of us are hoping that we can get close to that vote count for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the foreseeable future,” he added.

The Limited Test Ban Treaty, the first agreement negotiated to regulate the U.S.-Soviet nuclear competition, was formally signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom on August 5th, 1963 and entered into force on October 10, 1963.

Negotiated only months after the United States and the Soviet Union had walked back from the brink of nuclear war over missiles in Cuba, the treaty offered the hope that Moscow and Washington might be able to rein in the global nuclear arms race, thereby saving the world from possible nuclear apocalypses. The LTBT, which banned nuclear test explosions above ground, underwater and in space, led to the end of the most visible and strongly opposed aspects of the arms race: hundreds of open-air explosions that spewed dangerous levels of radioactive contamination far beyond the test sites of the nuclear powers.

During the symposium, speakers also praised the role of the two leaders of that time, as well as the political will of the two powers.

“As a result, I believe it would be impossible to imagine the U.S. signing a limited test ban agreement if anyone else had been in the White House,” said Nixon Library Director Naftali.

“The Limited Test Ban Treaty, therefore, is truly the product of political courage. The historical record now speaks volumes about John F. Kennedy’s role,” he concluded.

Speaking during the event’s second panel devoted to the role and future of the CTBT, Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador-At-Large Roman Vassilenko introduced The ATOM Project, explaining how it can help bring CTBT into force.

“I would say that already people from more than 100 countries have signed (The ATOM Project’s) online petition calling on the leaders of the world to abandon nuclear weapons to make sure the CTBT enters into force and to work towards a nuclear-weapon-free future,” Vassilenko said.

Speaking of the atmosphere of mistrust that characterises the relations of nuclear weapon and nuclear weapon-capable states, Vassilenko stressed that it was only through the restoration of trust that progress could be possible. He reminded the audience of the famous quote from Ronald Reagan “Trust but Verify” and, noting considerable progress in developing modern abilities to detect nuclear weapons tests, even the smallest ones, said today technical prerequisites for CTBT ratification are there. What is needed is political will on issues of nuclear disarmament on behalf of the leaders of the kind shown by leaders in the past, he said, adding that three out of five nuclear weapon states – Britain, France and Russia – have already ratified the treaty.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons test explosion held on Feb. 12, 2013 – its third and the world’s 2,053rd – underscored the urgent need for stronger barriers to prevent the testing, spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons. And the only such barrier is the CTBT.

At the 2010 conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, its 183 member states unanimously reaffirmed the vital importance of the entry into force of the CTBT “as a core element of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

The case for the CTBT is stronger than ever, experts at the event said. Ratification by the United States and China as UN Security Council Permanent Members is crucial to moving the CTBT toward its formal entry into force. They are among the few holdout states that need ratify in order to bring the treaty into force.

Once the treaty enters into force, all the states will have an additional tool to deter potential testing: short-notice, on-site inspections to investigate any suspicious events.

U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed his support for U.S. ratification of the CTBT. In 2009, he said that he would immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification. And again in June 2013, President Obama said he would work to build support in the United States Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Experts at the event noted that the U.S. ratification of the CTBT would send a clear message to nuclear capable states like Pakistan, India and North Korea that are not signatories of the treaty, as well as establish a clear norm for those countries that have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Karipbek Kuyukov, who also spoke at the event in Washington, urged the audience to look at the experience of nuclear weapons testing survivors in Kazakhstan and in other countries for inspiration for bolder actions on nuclear disarmament.

Get The Astana Times stories sent directly to you! Sign up via the website or subscribe to our Twitter and Telegram!